Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.

FIGHT THE STIGMA!

FIGHT THE STIGMA!
Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

Sep 6, 2010

A British Housing Project Part 3


by Rosemary Reeves
There was so much on my mind. Being in a new country was a lot to take in for a 17-year-old. Enrolling in English school was one of the things that kept me awake at night. I looked forward to it, but it was a little scary at the same time. I knew my American accent would make me stand out. In school, where others can be mean, being different is usually not a good thing.
As I took the bus to Corby Technical College I worried whether I would fit in. The school system in England is not the same as in the United States. In England, you go to “college” to take “O” level and “A” level courses to prepare for university. It’s kind of a high school after high school.
I got off the bus with my printed schedule of classes in hand. While looking at it, I noticed there was a mistake. When I got to my first class I decided to point that out to the instructor, who was standing at his desk, getting ready to take attendance. There were a few minutes left before the bell signaled for class to begin. Almost everyone had arrived.
I raised my hand and explained the problem. Upon hearing my American accent, all eyes turned toward me. There was an awkward moment when no one spoke. Suddenly, the teacher cocked his head and asked, “Are you a yank?” I replied that I was indeed a yank (an American). He smiled and the bell rang. “I’m Mr. Carrington,” he announced to all, “and just in case anyone has wandered into the wrong room, this is British history class.” Throughout the lesson he referred to me as “our friend from the colonies.” I didn’t mind. It gave everyone a laugh.
After class, I strolled through the hall in search of my locker. A swarm of classmates followed behind. I thought they were going to their lockers, too, but when I stopped to undo the lock, about ten of them surrounded me. Eyes wide with delight, they bombarded me with questions. What’s America like? Are you from New York? Have you met any movie stars?
I told them that I was from Philadelphia, which is not terribly far from New York. Yes, I had been to the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building and beheld the skyscrapers there. They hung onto my every word. “None of us ever met an American before!” one girl remarked, “This is so exciting!” I felt like a celebrity. It was one of those magical moments in life that happen when you least expect it.
Then another girl asked, “Are you rich?” It broke the spell. They thought all Americans were wealthy. I couldn’t let them know that my parents were on a fixed income and I lived in social housing. Back in Philly, I was stigmatized upon moving out of Liddonfield Housing Project into a middle-class neighborhood. I was afraid my classmates wouldn’t like me if they found out.
“Yes, I’m rich,” I replied, then changed the subject before they could probe me further about it. I told them more about Manhattan instead, which I had visited on a school outing once. They looked thrilled just to be near the American in their midst. I had never been the object of such delightful attention. It was one of the most wonderful days of my life and I thought I had found heaven.
When I went home to my social housing unit, I related to my mother what a great time I had at school. I left out the part where I lied. But I had misgivings already. Not telling the truth nagged at my conscience, but I refused to let it ruin the wonderful day. Deep down I knew I had gotten myself in a pickle. My classmates were bound to catch on sooner or later, because I had no wealth to flaunt.
I asked Mom how her day went. “Don’t tell your father,” she said, “but that gypsy boy’s mother stopped by when your father was out. I invited her in for tea. We had a nice, long talk.” Mom had her secrets, too, it seemed.
“You had a long talk with that tinker woman who lives in the caravan?” I asked, stunned, “What could you possibly have to say to each other?
Part 4 of A British Housing Project will be posted on Monday, Sept 13, 2010.
Related Stories: 

A British Housing Project, Part 4 
A British Housing Project, Part 5 
A British Housing Project, Conclusion

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